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Why J.K. Rowling can't lose with The Casual Vacancy

Categories: Books

Rowling J.K. Rowling is feeling her way in the world of adult writing. (Debra Hurford Brown)

It won't really matter whether J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy - her first adult book coming out on Thursday - is a work of staggering genius or a mediocre disappointment. The book is already atop the Amazon bestsellers list in the U.S. and has sold at least a million copies in advance in the U.K. The British writer herself has said she will limit her access to the media to a handful of interviews after its publication, but that won't matter either - her stature assures that The Casual Vacancy will get international acclaim.

No one can accuse Rowling of avoiding adult issues - the Harry Potter series deals with many dark subjects, including depression (the Death Eaters), bureaucracy (Ministry of Magic) and alienation (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) as well as more standard coming-of-age themes such as being unpopular (Neville Longbottom) or the nature of courage. The question will be whether she can write about such themes without the whiz-bang of flying broomsticks and magic and adventure that people loved about her fantasy novels.

She certainly is tackling issues of poverty and how it is viewed, a subject she understands first-hand from her days as a single mother living on state benefits. Although there has been tight control on advance copies of The Casual Vacancy, the Associated Press was able to get an early edition. It reports the book is the story of solidly middle-class village pondering what to do about the residents of a poverty-stricken, crime-infested housing project on the edge of town. Rowling's characters get involved when vacancy opens on the village council.

There was a clumsiness about the last two Harry Potter books - The Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows - that suggested Rowling needed a better editor or some similar kind of reality check on both length and execution. Now Rowling herself is saying she felt rushed when she was writing them - the expectations were so high and the publishers so insistent.

"There were a couple of the Potters and I definitely knew that they needed another year," she said in an interview with the BBC. "And I read them, and I think 'Oh God, maybe I'll go back and do a director's cut,' I don't know."

In the same interview, she says her next novel is likely to be for younger readers.

But Rowling has still got to find her feet in the world of adult writing. She insists she was not rushed in the writing for The Casual Vacancy -- and why should she be, anything she writes has the attention of legions of readers.

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